David Barton, a Religious Right activist often hailed as the movement’s premier historian, has a habit of promoting wildly revisionist history (including about his own life) to an enthusiastic conservative audience. So we were somewhat surprised today when Barton delivered a forceful condemnation of revisionist history about the cause of the Civil War.
On his “WallBuilders Live” radio program today, Barton took a question from a listener on the controversy over the Confederate flag and the idea that the Civil War was really fought over the principle of states’ rights and not the issue of slavery.
Barton outright rejected this sort of “revision of history” and spent more than ten minutes explaining that the Civil War was explicitly fought over the issue of slavery, as he declared that it appalls him to see schools named after Confederate generals like Nathan Bedford Forrest and compared the actions of Confederate soldiers to ISIS.
“It was not about states’ rights,” Barton said. “It was about slavery.”
As Barton explained, the documents written and speeches given by those who supported secession regularly cited the preservation of slavery as the primary factor. The idea that the Civil War was fought to protect states’ rights, Barton said, is absurd considering that the Confederate constitution explicitly prohibited states from abolishing slavery.
“It was not about states’ rights, it was about slavery,” Barton said. “What we’ve seen as a result of this is a lot of revision of history. And today, it literally appalls me to see that throughout the south, they still have elementary schools named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was one of the great Confederate generals in the Civil War. But you know, Nathan Bedford Forrest was also the founder of the Ku Klux Klan … We’ve got elementary schools named after a great murderer?”
Barton went on to praise the removal of the Confederate flag from outside the South Carolina capitol and elsewhere, saying that those who fly it and defend it “know nothing” about its history or the “values” it represented.
To make his case, Barton cited the massacre at Fort Pillow, in which Bedford’s Confederate troops ruthlessly murdered hundreds of surrendering black Union soldiers.
“When the blacks surrendered, when Union forces surrendered, having surrendered, they slaughtered them on the spot,” Barton said. “I mean, ISIS-like atrocities: they skinned ’em, they burned them alive, the buried ’em, they drowned ’em, the drug ’em, they hung ’em. These were guys who surrendered, they were prisoners of war. The Confederacy had a standing order that any black that you capture is to be killed on the spot. That’s not similar values to the north, we’re not talking the same value base here.”
Barton went on to liken Confederate prisoner of war camps for Union soldiers to Nazi death camps as he revealed that of all the official prayer proclamations that he collects for this library, he will not accept any Confederate proclamations from the likes of Jefferson Davis “because what they were praying for to God is like ISIS praying.”
“Look at the pictures, read the accounts,” Barton said. “Read what happened to blacks, read the hearings in Congress on the various things that were done to blacks. It’s not human. It’s what Germans did to Jews, saying ‘Well, they aren’t human, we can do this to them.'”
Barton said that he realizes that lots of Confederate leaders and soldiers were strong Christians “but that doesn’t mean what they fought for was right … The bottom line is you judge a tree by its fruits and the states’ right they fought to preserve was that of keeping blacks as non-people, as non-humans and they treated blacks and they treated Union soldiers in that manner and that’s just unacceptable.”
We look forward to folks like Todd Starnes now relentless attacking Barton for engaging in “cultural cleansing.”